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The Holy Trinity

July 2009 | by Timothy Cross

The Holy Trinity

 

Glory be to God the Father,

Glory be to God the Son,

Glory be to God the Spirit,

Great Jehovah, Three in One:

Glory, glory,

While eternal ages run!

 

The doctrine of the divine Trinity is a fundamental Christian belief and distinctive. The doctrine is often regarded as the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. All false religions, cults and heresies are a denial of the Trinity in some way or other.

     The final authority for Christian faith and practice is the Word of God, the Bible. It may seem surprising, then, that the word ‘Trinity’ is not actually used in the Bible to describe the Deity revealed there. Yet, paradoxically, the word could not be more biblical.

     Christian theologians coined the word as a concise way of describing the triune nature of the God revealed in the pages of Scripture – for the Bible teaches that God is one and God is three. The Shorter Catechism reads:

     ‘Are there more Gods than one? There is but one only, the living and true God.

     ‘How many persons are in the Godhead? There are three persons in the God-head, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory’.

 

The unity of God

 

The unity of God is a basic axiom of Scripture. If the Old Testament has a ‘creed’ it is Deuteronomy 6:4, which affirms: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’.

     The faith of the Bible is strictly – even intolerantly – monotheistic. God alone can declare, ‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me’ (Isaiah 46:9). The strict monotheism of the Old Testament is the rationale behind the first and foremost of the Ten Commandments, where God states, ‘I am the Lord your God … You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:1, 3). Jeremiah 10:10 declares, ‘The Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King’.

     Hence both the seriousness and the folly of idolatry lie in giving allegiance to anyone or anything other than the one true God.

 

The Tri-unity of God

 

While the Bible is very strict in its monotheism, it also reveals a distinction of persons within the one true God – a tri-unity. This is evident from the very first page of Scripture.

     The Bible begins, ‘In the beginning God …’ (Genesis 1:1). The Hebrew word for God here is the plural word Elohim. We get a further glimpse of this plurality when we read on and see that ‘the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters’ (Genesis 1:2). This statement points to the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit.

     Furthermore, we also read that ‘God said …’ (Genesis 1:1 et seq.). This introduces God’s ‘Word’ as a creative principle – a concept that the apostle John takes up in the prologue to his Gospel. Echoing the words of Genesis 1:1, he applies them to the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We thus glimpse both the unity and the trinity of God on the very first page of Scripture.

     Moving on, the account of creation reaches its climax with the creation of man. The plurality within God’s unity is seen again in that epochal event, when God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26).

     Furthermore, the opening chapter of the Bible is reflected in the first chapter of its final book, where Revelation 1:4-5 contains the following opening greeting: ‘Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth’. Most agree that the term ‘seven spirits’ is a metaphor that underlines the perfection of the one Holy Spirit.

 

The New Testament

 

It is in the New Testament, however, that the trinitarian nature of the one true God comes into sharpest focus. We see this notably in the baptism of the Lord Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan – an event related by all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. Taking Matthew’s account, we see that:

     1) ‘Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptised by him’ (Matthew 3:13) – a reference to God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

     2) ‘When Jesus was baptised … the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting on him’ (Matthew 3:16) – a reference to God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

     3) ‘Lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”’ (Matthew 3:17) – the speaker being God the Father, the first person of the Trinity.

     The divine Trinity is thus seen at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, and it is also seen at its end. Jesus’ final ‘Great Commission’ to his disciples was: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19).

 

Triune salvation

 

We have seen that the Bible reveals the divine Trinity in action at the creation of the cosmos, as related in Genesis 1. The universe was created by the will of the Father through the action of God’s Word, the Lord Jesus Christ (‘all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made’; John 1:2) with the involvement of God’s Spirit (who was moving on the face of the waters).

     But the Bible also reveals that all three members of the Trinity cooperate in the sinner’s salvation – the new creation. In the divine economy, each divine person has his distinct role in achieving the sinner’s eternal blessedness.

     For instance, 1 Peter 1:2 tells us that Christians are ‘chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood’. Then Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 writes: ‘God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth’.

     Christian salvation is thus a triune salvation. If we are saved it is because we have been chosen for salvation by God the Father in eternity past. He then sent his Son to procure our salvation through the shedding of his precious blood on Calvary’s cross.

     The Holy Spirit of God then applies this work of redemption to our hearts, convicting us of our sin and enabling us to trust in the crucified Christ, and so be reconciled to God the Father.

 

Triune prayer

 

Christian salvation therefore is a result of the work of God the Holy Trinity. And Christian experience continues to be triune thereafter. For example, prayer is one of the Christian’s highest earthly privileges. While all three members of the Trinity may be addressed in prayer (since all three are divine persons), prayer normally involves coming to God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit – ‘through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2:18).

     Every Christian grace and blessing, therefore, is a result of the operation of God the Holy Trinity. The Christian faith is trinitarian in doctrine, worship, practice and experience. Hence, since the first century, it has been seen fitting to conclude public worship by quoting the famous benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:12: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’.

     The Christian faith then – as revealed in Scripture, and defined in the subordinate standards of the Christian church – is distinctly, distinctively, distinguishingly and definitely trinitarian. It is against this touchstone that all counterfeit faiths may be weighed in the balance and found wanting. True Christianity is trinitarian in its doctrine, salvation, experience and praise:

 

Almighty God to thee

Be endless honours done,

The undivided Three

And the mysterious One.

Where reason fails, with

     all her powers,

There faith prevails and

     love adores.

Timothy Cross